France vs. Italy: Match preview, Six Nations 2009

James MortimerAnalyst IMarch 19, 2009

French coach Marc Lievremont and his lieutenants will rest easy knowing that irrespective of the result against the Italians in Rome this weekend; that their jobs are safe.

French boss Pierre Camou has come out publicly and defended his coaching staff, although he was cryptic in the manner in which he did so.

He effectively stated that his opinion does not alter dramatically after a win (against Wales) or a loss (against England), and that only one target interests him—the World Cup.

But surely the head of the FFR must be pragmatic enough to realise that nothing substitutes for winning, and that there surely is some issue with his hot and cold Les Bleus team. 

A first half capitulation to England would not have been so bad if they had not risen to such heights in their exquisite performance against the Red Dragons.  A win now against Italy must be achieved, considering that Frances next test opponents will be none other than the All Blacks in New Zealand.

So far, this tournament has proved but one thing; that France is still France.  Wonderful one day and truly woeful the next, for the Italians sake they would hope it is not a match to match cycle.

Naturally, for as much criticism as Lievremont has endured, it is the players who must also take the criticism.  Looking throughout their squad are wonderful players with superb skills, but like all European teams, they are struggling for genuine consistency.

Despite having the message hammered to not rest on their laurels following their Wales victory, in true tri colours fashion, they did.  The French victory against Wales was considered their greatest victory in recent years outside of defeats of the All Blacks in 1999 and 2007. 

As they did following those matches, they looked a vastly inferior team.

The French players in this regard struggle to put together all of the pieces of their game.  Scrutinise every facet of the French game, and you have all the sections to build a truly formidable rugby team. 

This is irrelevant though, if this is not put together on the park.

Especially if the work rate and desire is not there, both of these attributes were present in droves against Wales, but were sadly lacking at Twickenham.

Meanwhile Italy, still without a loss this championship, will head into their final match with a measure of confidence, after being close to pulling off the biggest test upset in the last 12 months.

They too will look to build more momentum, before heading off to play a two test series against the Wallabies, before popping down south to play the All Blacks in Christchurch. 

Unlike their Six Nations counterparts, it is clear what the obvious flaw in Nick Mallets Azzuri is.  They are bereft of world class players, with only Sergio Parisse being able to coin himself of World XV standard.

Still Mallet is not without blame.  His opening match selection brain explosion in putting Bergamasco at scrum half was a terrible gaffe for a man that had held multiple posts at international level. 

If Italy had a top level playmaker, one feels that this could be a competitive side.  The basics all appear to be present, especially with such a strong pack, but they are sadly missing creativity; the artistic spark that allows a team to penetrate defences and score tries consistently.

Staring at their seventh wooden spoon in ten attempts, it is difficult to be too positive.  Italy’s entry into the Six Nations was, as much as anything, hoped to make them more competitive. 

While it is taking a lot longer than the Azzuri faithful would hope, a win against France would certainly continue their solid showing against Wales.

Technically, the teams will be well matched in the tight and the set piece.  However, a more illustrious loose forward trio and far more quality in the Les Bleus back line should see them prevail over a tenacious, but ultimately low class Italian team.

Lievremont has made four changes to his side, bringing in Biarritz back Damien Traille and Florian Fritz, which give’s Les Bleus an all Toulouse centre and wing combination.

Clermont’s Julien Bonnaire and Fabien Barcella come into the pack.  The Clermont flanker replaces Sebastion Chabel, who moves back into the second row to replace Jerome Thion.

Mallet has stuck with the same team that lost 15-20 to Wales last week. 

The former Springbok coach had said that he was tempted to blood some Italian youngsters.

This will be a decision that will be crucial in the coming months.  Either Mallet needs to give his incumbents continued chances, or he needs to turn to the next level to find the spark that his long struggling team requires.

Despite having beaten the French once, way back in 1997, this feat will not be repeated against a wounded Les Bleus team.

France by 12.

HEAD TO HEAD: France 29, Italy 1

Last match: France 25-13 @ Stade de France

France:15 Damien Traille, 14 Maxime Medard, 13 Florian Fritz, 12 Yannick Jauzion, 11 Cedric Heymans, 10 Francois Trinh-Duc, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Imanol Harinordoquy, 7 Julien Bonnaire, 6 Thierry Dusautoir, 5 Sebastien Chabal, 4 Lionel Nallet (capt), 3 Sylvain Marconnet, 2 Dimitri Szarzewski, 1 Fabien Barcella.
Replacements: 16 William Servat, 17 Thomas Domingo, 18 Jerome Thion, 19 Louis Picamoles, 20 Frederic Michalak, 21 Mathieu Bastareaud, 22 Julien Malzieu.

Italy: 15 Andrea Marcato, 14 Giulio Rubini, 13 Gonzalo Canale, 12 Mirco Bergamasco, 11 Matteo Pratichetti, 10 Luke McLean, 9 Paul Griffen, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Mauro Bergamasco, 6 Alessandro Zanni, 5 Marco Bortolami, 4 Santiago Dellape, 3 Carlos Nieto, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Salvatore Perugini.
Replacements: 16 Franco Sbaraglini, 17 Martin Castrogiovanni, 18 Carlo Antonio Del Fava, 19 Josh Sole, 20 Pablo Canavosio, 21 Luciano Orquera, 22 Roberto Quartaroli.